It's one small 45-minute flight from Kerikeri to Wellington, but potentially a giant leap for Nasa's climate science division.

Air New Zealand has partnered with the American space agency as part of a scientific mission to better understand the effect of climate change on the planet.

Carrying Nasa instruments on their fleet of Q300s, Air New Zealand will begin an important data gathering mission at level not currently available to the space agency.

"This is the first time that we've ever taken scientific instruments and put them on a commercial airline," said Professor Chris Ruf, principal investigator for the Nasa mission.

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"It's also a first for the sorts of science we can do with that."

Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS) mission already has a constellation of eight small satellites monitoring the earth. However, when referenced with the data available from planes, Nasa will be able to get a much clearer picture of how the world is changing.

Prof. Christopher Ruf, inspects one of the GYGNSS Satellites before it is deployed into orbit. Photo / Supplied, Nasa
Prof. Christopher Ruf, inspects one of the GYGNSS Satellites before it is deployed into orbit. Photo / Supplied, Nasa

Captain David Morgan, chief of operational standards for the airline, identified the fleet of Bombardier Q300 propeller planes as the ideal aircraft for the mission.

"Our Q300s cruise around 16,000 feet – much closer to the land and sea than NASA's satellites. Placing receivers on aircraft will enhance the resolution and quality of information, giving scientists an unprecedented view over our entire network, from Kerikeri to Invercargill," he said.

There are currently 23 of the aircraft on Air New Zealand's domestic network.

It's hoped that the data gathered from aircraft will help predict severe storms and weather patterns in the short term, but lead to data and insights as to how climate change is affecting our planet.

No irony is lost when observing air travel is one of the biggest potential drivers in man-made climate change. In particular, jet engines on commercial aircraft produce tonnes of greenhouse gases per flight, directly into he atmosphere.

However, it is hoped that mounting the instruments on flights we might better understand the effects air travel and other sectors are having on Earth's delicate climate.

CYGNSS operates a fleet of eight micro-satellites. Photo / Supplied, Nasa
CYGNSS operates a fleet of eight micro-satellites. Photo / Supplied, Nasa

"As an airline, we're already seeing the impact of climate change, with flights impacted by volatile weather and storms," said Captain Morgan. "Climate change is our biggest sustainability challenge so it's incredible we can use our daily operations to enable this world-leading science."

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Described as a "scientific 'black box'" the receiver units will be carried on around 50 services a week across the fleet.

CYGNSS has previously been used to track and monitor hurricanes Maria and Irma and observe flooding under the dense canopy of the Amazon Rainforest.

Going into operation in late 2020, by the end of the year passengers flying on the network can claim they have helped conduct a Nasa science experiment. Sort of.